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Ukraine at War – Update 15, 2023

Dear Office, Ivan Rusyn is president of the Ukrainian Evangelical Theological Seminary (UETS) in Kyiv. UETS has been a HART partner for over ten years, and Ivan is a personal friend of mine. In a recent interview with the Christian publication, Plough, he recently shared his thoughts on the war and its effect on the Church. These insights are helpful as we in the West attempt to understand the profound impact of this tragic conflict on fellow Christians.

It’s been over a year since the Russian invasion. How has your faith been affected by this year?
At the beginning, of course, I was filled with questions: What is going on? Where is God? Did he leave Ukraine along with the millions of refugees, or did he stay with us? Then I realized that these were the wrong questions. I started to think, why am I questioning God? These are questions that God has to ask. People, humanity, what are you doing?

What’s going on? Because it was not God, who was killing people in Bucha. It was other people, many of whom even consider themselves Christians.

At the moment, I am still struggling with questions: Will I follow Jesus even if he never responds positively to my prayers? And frankly speaking, my heart seems to answer, yes, I will. Because who Jesus is more important than what he does.

Sometimes you can’t see God, and you are quite sure that he’s not there. And sometimes, his will is beyond our understanding. Sometimes he does things in his way, and we might not like it. But I am ready to say to God: You are more important than what you do. Will I survive this war?
Will my family survive? Will my seminary survive? I will follow you anyway. Somehow during this war, my relationship with God has become more real.

In your first interview, you told us how more people in Ukraine were looking to churches because of the war. Is that still the case now?
Yes. Over eight million people left Ukraine, but our churches are not smaller. In Ukraine, people are coming to God in different ways than before. In many churches, when a person comes to the Church, we have this tradition of the sinner’s prayer, in which he publicly confesses that he accepts Jesus Christ as his savior.

Now people are coming to God in different ways. These prayers aren’t taking place in churches but in shelters and houses when people face challenges or when they experience love and care from strangers, and they cannot explain how in the world these people found and helped them.

So, our nation has a different perspective on God at this moment. I have talked with thousands of people during these twelve months of the war, and I have never heard anyone curse God or say anything against God. People always say, “Praise God, we are alive.” “I was praying, and God saved me.” “I was praying, and you came to pick me up.”

Another significant moment is when people receive Bibles. Very often, when we give someone the Bible, that person kisses it. And you can see that the Bible means something special. In Ukraine, a new nation is being born, one that relies on God and one that is developing a culture of sympathy and generosity where almost everybody wants to do something for others.

This war is awful, but there seems to be a common theme among the countless pastors we have talked with throughout this conflict: God is using this war to build HIS CHURCH and extend HIS Kingdom. Please continue to pray for pastors and those in leadership like Ivan.

Several weeks ago, HART organized its first Pastor’s conference following the Covid-19 pandemic. This gathering marked the first holiday (3 days) for all attendees since the commencement of the war. It proved to be a truly blessed and enriching experience for everyone involved.

The primary aim of the conference was to create a unique opportunity for attendees to unwind, recharge, forge new connections and friendships, exchange personal stories, share laughter and tears, and ultimately join in the collective praise and worship of God.

As evident from the video below, we can confidently declare: MISSION ACCOMPLISHED! The pastors and their wives returned to their respective homes and ministries, invigorated and inspired, with a renewed sense of purpose and focus.

Thanks to all of you who are praying for and supporting these important Pastor conferences.

The Kramatorsk restaurant strike shows that in Ukraine, death can come any time, anywhere.

It was dinner time and the restaurant – a popular pizza joint in the center of Kramatorsk – was crammed with people. Just after 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, a Russian missile ripped through, killing at least 11 people. For millions across the country, the strike was yet another reminder of the horrifying reality of life in Ukraine.

Within hours, our office in Lviv received a call from one of HART partner Pastors. Ihor tearfully told us about the 14-year-old twin sisters Yulia and Anna Aksenchenko, who were among those killed in the strike.

IHOR’S WORD: “On September 4, 2023, they would have turned 15, but all their dreams, plans, joyful expectations, and hopes are buried under the ruins of a building destroyed by a Russian missile.

Experts calculate the price of missiles and enemy ammunition fired at Ukraine, but who can calculate or put a price on the lives of two 14-yearold girls? Every day they calculate the amount of damage caused to Ukraine as a result of the destruction of infrastructure, educational institutions, medical facilities, cultural heritage of Ukraine, and more. Can anyone put a price on the priceless thousands of lost lives of men, women, and children?

It is heartbreaking to hear about the deaths of people, especially when you personally know the people who died. Anna and Yulia attended our church with their grandmother Liuda, who had repented and accepted Christ into her heart.

They were living with Liuda, as their parents were divorced. On this day their father wanted to see the girls and invited them to meet him at a cafe for a pizza, where their precious lives were later cut short by an enemy missile. The children’s father survived. It is hard to imagine what the family is going through now.

Grandma Liuda is grieving for her children. I visited her, tried to comfort her, and cried with her. I understand her because we lost our youngest son three years ago. Liuda asks questions to which I cannot find answers. For now, all that remains is to pray for the healing of the hearts that lost these precious children and to visit them, giving them love and hope.” Your brother in the Lord, Ihor Bondar.

Friends, this is a breakthrough! Instead of fish, it’s a fishing rod. In our case, instead of bread, it’s a bread oven.

With God’s guidance, everything worked out, and we now have two bakeries operating. Launching a new idea is almost like giving birth; it is scary and challenging. But we found the right people to head up this project. And how cool it is to hold freshly baked bread in your hands!

I had bread today that was just awesome! I lifted the loaf to the sky, shaking it with joy because of where I was standing. It is extraordinary, but I am on the front lines, in Kreminets, in the midst of utter devastation.

Bread is about life. The smell of bread is the smell of life-giving. People are alive! They’re baking bread! They’re baking bread in their destroyed village! It’s a sight to behold! Hallelujah!

We have launched two bread-baking operations in the Kreminets region. One of them is fully equipped with a wood-fired oven, a generator, and a dough mixer. For the generator thank you sincerely mission HART. At the second bakery, we only have an oven. We need a dough mixer and a generator.

We have a request to start another mini bakery also near the extreme frontline borders. If any HART supporters are interested in helping us get these new bakeries up and running here are some estimated costs:

  • Oven – about USD $625.
  • Generator (5 KW+) – about USD$1,400.
  • Dough mixer (20 liters) – about USD$700.

In addition, we need funds for ingredients – flour, vegetable oil, yeast, salt, sugar, and gasoline for generators.

What makes these bakery projects important? In addition to promoting self-sufficiency and providing employment opportunities, there is also a crucial logistical aspect to consider. These villages are accessible only in the summer. In the rainy and snow seasons, you can only get here by a military tank (and we don’t have one!) People always need bread, so let’s help them bake at any time of the year.

Once again, share our joy. Accept our sincere gratitude for every person who decides to support this project. Pray that everything will be peaceful and friendly everywhere. And that Russian mines, missiles, and shells do not destroy our bakeries. Pray that God protects the brave bakers.

Final thought: near one fence there are sunflowers lined up in a row, as if asking: “Will the children come out to play today?” They won’t come out, sunflowers. There are no children here anymore. Thankfully, they are safely away from this war zone.
Pastor Andrey

YOUR SUPPORT empowers and equips the National Church and partners like Andrey
to be Christ’s hands and feet throughout this terrible war.
Support BAKERIES through the Ukraine Crisis Fund.
Thank you for your ongoing support of HART!

Thanks to YOUR support, thousands of refugees will be cared for, and
thousands of children will experience a life-changing summer camp!

…for your generous hearts!

YOUR SUPPORT helped teenagers from the eastern city of Kharkiv to
attend a camp in a safe place in western Ukraine.

“When Kherson was under Russian occupation,” Natalia says, “the Russian special services put my son-in-law on the ‘wanted list’ because he was a military man and went to defend the country from the Russian occupiers. It was extremely dangerous for my daughter Daryna and her children Anastasia and Nazar to stay in the city, so I decided having them evacuated as soon as possible was best.

On the morning of their departure, Daryna, her kids, and several other families left the city in a car convoy. After a long and tiring trip, they were finally approaching the last Russian checkpoint. Suddenly the convoy was fired upon by Russian soldiers with grenade launchers.

“Everyone was panicking,” said Daryna, “as there was nowhere to go. They couldn’t go back, and the road in front was blocked and filled with burning cars. The only option for escape was exactly what the Russian soldiers were forcing them to do – that was to escape by driving through a field full of mines. On the other side of the field – was freedom. The soldiers were doing this to have fun. For them, this ‘game’ was like Russian roulette.”

“The driver took a sharp turn off the road, and after traveling only a few meters, the car hit a mine. The driver was thrown out of the car. We never saw him again and do not know what happened to him. He seemed to be alive. However, the woman sitting in the front seat was killed; her head was blown off by the explosion.”

As Daryna recalled, “My kids and I were so shaken up. My head was aching. We heard screaming and saw fire and smoke all around us, and I didn’t know what to do. We got out of the car, and the only way to escape was to run across the mined field toward freedom in the territory of Ukraine.

The shooting did not stop. To escape from machine gun fire, we ran across the field as fast as possible, stepping on the ground without knowing where the mines were hidden. It was terrifying. Thank God we survived! Unfortunately, many of those traveling with us in the convoy, women and children, could not escape and were killed. When we reached the other side of the field, people met us and provided us with help and shelter. What we experienced that day cannot be described in any words.”

“Before Daryna and the children left Kherson,” Natalia continues, “I asked the local pastor, Serhii Deinekin (a HART partner), to pray for my children’s safe journey. For several days we did not know anything about them. There was no communication at all. We only heard that the convoy of cars in which our children and granddaughter were traveling was under fire, with many people being killed, but we did not know if they were alive. A few days later, the phone rang, ‘Oh my God!’ I screamed, ‘Daryna is calling!’ Tears of joy, trembling voice, and gratitude to God poured out of my mouth when I heard they were all right.”

Salvation of the Soul
Natalia continued, “We owe the salvation of our children to God alone! Before this situation, we had never been to church and had no faith. We saw God’s power and love in what happened to our children. Now we believe in Him, we go to church, and we will thank and praise Our God until the end of our earthly life.”

Natalia has accepted Christ and is preparing to be baptized. Every day, Oleksandr, Natalia’s husband, comes to church to help repair the church, which was partially destroyed by shelling. “Oleksandr is always with me,” says Pastor Serhii, “helping to deliver food, medicine, and building materials to the villages liberated from the occupiers. Having not read and not yet knowing the Bible, Oleksandr calls other people to faith in God, sharing the testimony of his children’s salvation.”

HART director Yevhen: “Passing near the village where Daryna and her children are now temporarily living, I needed to pick them up to move them to a safer place, but neither Daryna nor the children wanted to get into the car. Although almost six months have passed since the incident, the fear of getting into a car remains. Both kids were so traumatized that Nazar has only now started to speak again because he was silent all this time. Unfortunately, they will never be able to forget what happened to them that day.”

The battle against corruption

For the past three decades, Ukraine has achieved a dismal distinction. Its levels of corruption have reached higher than any other country in Europe except Russia. But a year of war and hardship has wrought changes that many ordinary citizens believe will bring in their wake a new determination to combat the scourge…

Here are specific prayer points that can help guide our prayers for the situation in Ukraine. Please share these with your friends and family:

  1. Pray for the physical protection and provision for Ukrainian children in harm’s way. Supernaturally and otherwise, minimize the suffering and loss of life. Pray for children who see things no child’s eye should ever see. Jesus, you are a great King and healer. By whatever means you choose — loving parents, a direct work of the Holy Spirit, fellow believers… protect children’s hearts, minds, and imagination.
  2. Pray for and ask to see God’s glory amid this great struggle. Pray that He would be glorified through the Christians in Ukraine who are being his hands and feet during this tragedy.
  3. Pray for God’s peace to strengthen and encourage the thousands of Ukrainian workers/volunteers serving refugees and the poor in their communities, who need to hear of God’s love for them through these Christian workers.
  4. Pray for God’s protection for soldiers and civilians caught up in this conflict.
  5. Pray for the residents of cities and towns who are under heavy shelling and have lost their heat, lights, and water.
  6. Pray for the civilian and military prisoners of war who are subject to torture and death at the hands of their captors.
  7. Ask God to comfort the many families that have lost mothers, fathers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters during this Russian invasion.
    The pain and heartache are overwhelming for most families.
  8. Pray for the frustration of all evil plans of the enemy.
  9. Ask God to intervene. Pray for wisdom for world leaders. Pray God would move in their hearts and guide their steps and plans to end this war.
  10. Pray for the President (Zelensky) and the leaders of Ukraine to know God’s truth and peace and be transformed by his Holy Spirit so that they would seek to lead their country in the way of peace.
  11. Ask that this conflict would open doors of opportunities for the gospel. Pray that He would make his name known across Ukraine, Russia, and all the European countries refugees are fleeing to due to this conflict.